DOTs Prod Congress to Complete Fiscal 2017 Funding Bill With FAST Act Increases

AASHTO Journal, 18 November 2016

State departments of transportation went on record Nov. 15 asking Congress to pass an appropriations measure by the end of December that would cover the entire federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

If that happened, it would allow the DOTs and transit agencies around the country to tap into the higher fiscal 2017 funding levels that Congress already authorized and paid for last December in the five-year Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

Before lawmakers recessed in September to campaign ahead of the November elections, they passed a short-term continuing resolution that funded most federal programs including transportation through Dec. 9, and were widely expected to complete a full-year omnibus measure when they returned this month.

capitol0816.jpgNow, however, House leaders and officials from the incoming Trump administration want to pass another short-term CR that would last through next March, so that a President Trump could help shape the current-year budget after he takes office Jan. 20.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Board of Directors adopted a 2017 appropriations policy statement at AASHTO’s annual meeting in Boston. It was among a group of policy positions crafted earlier by a joint committee of AASHTO, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association and the Associated General Contractors of America.

The statement notes that prior to Congress passing the FAST Act last year, state DOTs and transit agencies faced years of uncertainty about the federal program funding as lawmakers approved a long series of short-term measures. That hampered the ability of state and local agencies to make long-term infrastructure investment plans.

Already, this year’s CR has delayed states from getting their annual Highway Trust Fund apportionments and the fiscal 2017 increase, introducing a new element of uncertainty less than a year after the five-year FAST Act took effect. Most highway and transit programs in the trust fund are scheduled to see funding increases this year of about 2 to 4 percent.

Another short extension could also delay issuance of the 2017 round of special freight-related grants out of the Highway Trust Fund, or the USDOT’s annual TIGER infrastructure grants.

The joint resolution notes that a Senate-passed transportation appropriations bill would also rescind $2.2 billion in past highway program contract authority that states have not yet obligated, and that it could further constrain state infrastructure investment plans – especially when combined with a larger rescission scheduled in the FAST Act to take effect in 2020.

Before the board’s Nov. 15 vote, AASHTO Vice President and Maine DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt – who is now the association’s 2016-2017 president – reported that a final fiscal 2017 spending bill could drop the rescission entirely as a proposed House bill would do, adopt the Senate’s full $2.2 billion rescission or put the number somewhere in between.

The AASHTO-AGC-ARTBA Joint Committee resolution urges the House and Senate “to pass a final fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Transportation during calendar year 2016 that: provides, at a minimum, the highway and public transportation investment levels authorized by the FAST Act; and includes no rescission of unobligated highway contract authority.”

The board also approved Joint Committee proposals on Highway Trust Fund solvency (see related story), promoting positive messages about the importance of transportation projects, risk allocation among project partners and avoiding or resolving project disputes. All of those documents are available at a dedicated AASHTO website.

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